A Dog's Purpose Review


Despite me being among the first to publicly criticize dog training methods based on a phone video taken during the shooting of the movie “A Dog’s Purpose,”  I saw the film.  The phone video shows a trainer forcibly pushing a German Shepherd Dog into rushing water for a scene, Animal rights groups called for a boycott of the film.

About this video, released by TMZ, I wonder many things: Why did it take the presumed dog-loving crew member who shot the video a year to release it (sell it?) to TMZ? Or did TMZ hold onto the video for maximum impact? Why didn’t the American Humane Association rep on set just say “stop,” or wasn’t the representative on the set when this scene in question was shot (which might be the case)? And why was a real dog used in the first place in this scene, and not CGI (Computer Generated Imagery)?

Pet expert Steve Dale reviews a Dog's PurposeI don’t know any of these answers. But I do know with actors, crew, people who feed the crew, editors, etc. – it takes well over 100 to make a movie. Because a few apparently did wrong, does this mean we shouldn’t see the film?

So, I decided to see the movie. Watching the trailer and from all those I’ve communicated with who read Bruce Cameron’s book the film is based on – it seemed this could be the best movie ever at describing and showing what dogs are all about.

Well, it’s not. I suggest the Benji movies, from back in the day, did a far better job and never traumatized children – as “A Dog’s Purpose” could.

For sure – I cried and cried throughout the movie, But I walked out more sad than touched or inspired by what a dog’s purpose might be. .

It’s hardly an awful film, and I was most definitely moved by the “Lassie/Timmy” relationship a boy named Ethan had with what was a called a red Golden Retriever, named Bailey. Ethan grew up with a best friend with four legs. Certainly, Bailey turned out to be a better role model than Ethan’s alcoholic dad. As Ethan continues to grow up into a teenager, Bailey plays just as prominent a role in Ethan’s life. When he begins to seriously date, it’s ‘love me, love my dog.’

What I don’t get is that a movie that was made to celebrate dogs shows Bailey at the very start as a puppy in a puppy mill without making any mention or even hint of how awful these places are. Bailey is taken from the mill by two guys who intend to sell the puppy, but first they go into a restaurant leaving the dog sweltering in a hot car, where Ethan and his mom discover him for the first time. They break the window to rescue the dog (that is obviously a very good thing), but the ‘bad guys’ are never heard from again.

In fact, there are far more bad people in this movie than bad dogs – but I suppose that is a sadly very accurate depiction.

Bailey, Bailey, Bailey and Ethan

Bailey, Bailey, Bailey and Ethan

By the time Ethan goes away to college, Bailey is aging – and eventually he’s at the veterinary clinic about to be euthanized. Ethan is called back to say goodbye. And while Ethan is crying, I was, and most attending the movie,

But then quick as can be Bailey is back – this time as a puppy named Ellie.

Bailey looks down, and says “this time I’m a girl.” Yet, oddly the male narrator as the dog, remains the same. I don’t know much about reincarnation, maybe that is how it goes.



Ellie is a German Shepherd dog working with the Chicago Police Department. At one point Ellie jumps into rushing water at a Chicago reservoir (I have no idea where that is in real life) to save a drowning girl, who had been kidnapped. Ellie valiantly jumps into the water (TMZ scene) to save the girl , and served a purpose for her new owner, who had been lonely. But though a hero, Ellie dies.



And poof, she returns next as Tino, a stubby (again male) Corgi adopted by Maya, a lonely college student. Tino befriends another dog in the park one day, leading to Maya’s eventual happy marriage to said dog’s owner, Together they all raise a family, and their young children adore Tino, dressing him up. Tino loves the attention.

Throughout his life, Tino can read Maya’s mind, and the other way around. When she’s ready for ice-cream, Tino knows it. And Maya knows when it’s time to let her old beloved dog go. Tino says, “This was one of my best lives.”

And poof he’s back again, but his next life doesn’t begin so good, a couple buy the dog from a woman selling puppies in a parking lot (no mention is made that this isn’t a good idea). This puppy grows into a what appears to be a St. Bernard mix, and he’s is poorly treated, He’s tied up in the back yard, never plays or interacts with anyone. The woman’s significant other forces him to be an outside dog, even in the elements, and she is surprised he grew so large. Eventually the dog is driven off in a pickup truck and is dumped.

Wandering, the dog manages to again find the love of his life – Ethan. Pet expert Steve Dale reviews a Dog's PurposeAnd I will leave the story there. And the ending, incidentally, is happy.

Though I knew the dog was always going to come back yet again, it was hard for me to deal with all this dying – that’s three dogs dying (not counting a Great Pyrenees who lived with Tino), all within two hours.

To  the movie’s credit, there isn’t a time where a dog doesn’t have a purpose, sometimes to change a life and sometimes just to make us happy. Dogs know when we’re sad. Dogs also teach us to live in the present. And they are right, “Every dog happens for a reason.”

I you feel you must boycott the movie – I respect you for that. If you do see the movie, understand, there will be no Academy Award nominations, though any movie positively depicting dogs is worth seeing for me. If you have young kids, stream an old Benji film.